When you’re in addiction recovery, relapse is when you start using drugs or alcohol again. So relapse happens because you use drugs or alcohol, right? Not really. Not at all, actually.
Going back to using is the definition of relapse, but it starts a lot earlier than that. Some people dance with relapse for days, weeks, months, even years without picking up. The reality is that most people have already relapsed before they even take that drink.
Real recovery takes a lot of ongoing psychological work. It’s awareness of thoughts, drives, urges, motivations, and the full range of emotion. Drinking is only a symptom of deeper issues, and unless those are recognized and managed, you simply can’t find happiness in lasting sobriety.
In my experience, there are two things that stand in the way of enjoying the happiness afforded through long standing sobriety. Those things are honesty and a maintained awareness and evaluation of your thoughts, emotions, and drives. Let’s dive into those a little bit.
Honesty and recovery
Honesty seems like it should be a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people can’t keep this simple ethic, myself included. Every addict has a long history of lying, even about the stupidest shit. The big lies have been easy to stop, it’s those little ones that are hard. Why would I lie about what I had for lunch? Who knows, it’s just standard addict behavior. Lie about everything.
So what’s the big deal about little lies? Why are they dangerous? I mean, if you’re being honest about serious things, then who cares about bending the truth or embellishing a little? Well, the more small lies you allow, the easier it becomes to lie. The easier the small ones are, the easier it is to lie about bigger and bigger things.
I look at lies, no matter how small, like shadows. Every shadow gives me a place to hide. When I lie, I’m hiding behaviors I think will create friction in my life. I’m avoiding confrontation. The more shadows, the more places to hide behavior I know is unacceptable. Hiding questionable behavior is a step in the direction of relapse.
If I am adamant about being honest with everyone, even about the uncomfortable shit, then I’m shining light into the corners. Remove the shadow, remove the hiding place. Stay honest, and you will automatically avoid bad behavior just to avoid the confrontation and accountability that come with it.
Evaluating your motives
I suppose this is a little trickier than not lying, but it’s definitely as important. We have the natural inclination to view things from our own perspective. The problem with that is the truth becomes tainted by our experiences and emotions. We justify behavior by how we feel, and offset blame to others. If we step outside of our own narrow scope, we can see our own fault, and work to correct it.
Look, the fact of the matter is that if you don’t take the time and effort to learn WHY you do the shit you do and act the way you do, then you’re going to keep doing dumb shit. And if you struggle with an addiction, doing dumb shit is a shortcut to relapse. I feel like I should make a chart or a venn diagram or something to illustrate it.
A lot of our actions are based on first reaction to what’s happening. Most of us are guilty of not taking a moment to think rationally about our actions, and instead letting emotion dictate what we do. First reactions tend to be defensive. Often, we’re defending our own faults and shortcomings.
If we want unbiased perspective, we need to work on changing our relationship with our mind and emotions. We have to remind ourselves that our thoughts and emotions are subconscious products of the brain, and we don’t have control over what pops up in our head. What we do have control over is how we react to those thoughts and emotions. You can’t stop yourself from feeling anger, but you don’t have to feed back into it by dwelling on it and creating negative thought patterns.
Drugs and alcohol aren’t the problem. Your unresolved trauma and inability to confront your shortcomings are. Face them. Recovery will be a lot easier.